Blog posts tagged in The University of Texas at Austin

The following post is part of a special blog series highlighting the importance of our O’Donnell Awards program and its impact on the program’s past recipients in medicine, engineering, science, and technology innovation, as well as the importance of scientific research to Texas. The 2014 O’Donnell Awards recipients have each agreed to contribute to the blog series.

The third post in this series was written by Dr. Thomas Truskett, recipient of the 2014 O’Donnell Award in Engineering. Dr. Truskett was recognized for fundamental contributions in three areas—self-assembly at the nanoscale, dynamics of confined liquids, and structural arrest of complex fluids—that are important for applications ranging from biomedical imaging to the delivery of therapeutic proteins.

View Dr. Truskett’s presentation at the TAMEST 2014 Annual Conference.
View Dr. Truskett’s portion of the 2014 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards tribute video.

The 2015 O’Donnell Awards recipients were announced in December through a press release and a video trailer on the TAMEST website.


Dr. Thomas Truskett, Recipient of the 2014 O’Donnell Award in Engineering

By Thomas Truskett, Ph.D.

Through discovery and innovation, scientists and engineers have a long history of addressing challenges critical to our health, prosperity, and security; i.e., to our quality of life. Since the latter is a priority for the citizens of most communities, a practical question arises. What can be done now (e.g., as a city, state, nation, etc.) to encourage and support a lasting culture of discovery and innovation? More specifically, what actions can be taken to help create and sustain the necessary human capital and infrastructure, as well as the resources and incentives, for these activities to thrive over the long term?

The answers are, of course, community specific and require understanding a complex landscape of political, strategic, and economic considerations. Private investors and companies have financial incentives to support development of promising and profitable technologies, and—all else equal—they favor investments in locations with a healthy business environment, a vibrant technological sector, and a highly skilled workforce, often in close proximity to prestigious tier-one research universities. The latter can be particularly helpful because the intersection of education and the world-class research characteristic of tier-one institutions not only helps to attract and retain top faculty and students, but it also produces a steady stream of graduates educated in a culture of discovery and innovation. More broadly, the tier-one university goals of educating future leaders and creating and disseminating new knowledge complement those of a robust technological sector.

Image of clustering in a simulated model dispersion of therapeutic proteins

An image of clustering in a simulated model dispersion of therapeutic proteins. Colors identify individual clusters. Image credit: Jon Bollinger and Thomas Truskett, UT Austin.

But that still leaves the question of what to do to cultivate an environment conducive to the long-term success of tier-one research universities? In addition to providing the necessary funding for world-class faculty and facilities (dollar amounts that get repaid many times over by the economic impact of these institutions), further investments need to be made to broadly support a culture of discovery and innovation. In Texas, one successful and forward-thinking example of such an initiative is The Academy of Medicine, Engineering & Science of Texas (TAMEST), founded a decade ago to recognize and bring together the top innovators in the state of Texas, including members of The National Academies as well as rising stars. Through its annual conferences and critical issues forums, as well as through the annual O’Donnell Awards, TAMEST has created something truly unique in Texas: a relevant innovation connection point for top educators, researchers, professionals, industry practitioners, media, and the public.

I experienced first-hand the benefits of TAMEST over the last year after being selected as the recipient of the 2014 O’Donnell Award for Engineering. It’s hard to describe how quickly giving an O’Donnell Awards Lecture at the annual conference in front of hundreds of Academy members and rising stars opens new doors for collaboration. This type of broad exposure is especially important in highly interdisciplinary fields like some of those in which I and my collaborators work, including computational material design and engineering liquid forms of biological therapeutics for at-home treatment of disease. Based on interactions and conversations associated with the O’Donnell Awards and the annual conference, I learned of fascinating complementary approaches, techniques, and ideas from other areas of science and engineering that advanced our research capabilities, and I have also established entirely new collaborations that are broadening the impact of our work. As the new year approaches, I look forward to the chance to return and participate in the annual conference and contribute to what has become a powerful and enlightening interaction forum for discovery and innovation in Texas.


Thomas Truskett, Ph.D.Dr. Thomas Truskett is Department Chair, Les and Sherri Stuewer Endowed Professor, and Bill L. Stanley Leadership Chair in Chemical Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin).

By Dr. Tinsley Oden and Dr. Omar Ghattas

A simple definition of science is this: the activity concerned with the systematic acquisition of knowledge. The English word is derived from scientia, which is Latin for “knowledge.” According to the Cambridge Dictionary, science is “the enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.” It is designed to reduce or eliminate ignorance by acquiring and understanding information and involves the mental comprehension of perceived truth or fact through cognition.

The question of how knowledge is acquired has been a subject of debate among philosophers of science for almost 3,000 years and, as far as is known, began in writings of Plato and Socrates. After millennia of debate by the greatest minds of human history, two avenues to scientific knowledge emerged: 1) observations, experimental measurements, information gained by the human senses, guided by instruments; and 2) theory, inductive hypotheses often framed in mathematical language. Observation and theory are thus, the two classical pillars of science.

Understanding HIV

ICES researchers have simulated the behavior of the HIV RT protein to help design therapeutic drugs. Protein motions are displayed as multiple light blue ribbons. The green and dark blue spheres represent the DNA which the protein HIV RT synthesizes.

Is there a third pillar? Is there a new avenue to gain scientific knowledge and guide engineering design? The answer, in our minds, and in the minds of most contemporary scientists and engineers, is very clearly “Yes.” It is the new discipline of computational science: “the use of computational algorithms to translate mathematical models that represent how the physical universe behaves into computer models that predict the future and reconstruct the past, and that are used to simulate a broad spectrum of engineered products, processes, and systems.”

Computational science represents the single most important scientific advance in human history. It has transformed forever the way scientific discoveries are made and how engineering design and manufacturing are carried out. It lies at the intersection of mathematics, computer science, and the core disciplines of science and engineering.

What can computational science and engineering (CS&E) do that classical science cannot? It can look into the past with so-called inverse analysis to determine which past events caused observed phenomena. It can explore the effects of thousands of scenarios for or in lieu of actual experiments. It can be used to study events beyond the reach of contemporary experimental science. It can optimize procedures for the design of products and systems. It can even explore the consequences of a breakdown in models and theories.

Mapping the Human Brain

Researchers in the Center for Computational Visualization, directed by Chandrajit Bajaj, have been automating construction of nanoscopic resolution models of the human brain and its activity. This picture shows an active chemical synapse between a (green) neuron axonal segment and a (yellow) dendritic spine head, surrounded by spherical neurotransmitters (blue, red, white ) at different stages of ion-channel activation.

Indeed, it is difficult to conceive of a contemporary engineered product, process, or system that has not been designed by the modern tools of computational science. From power systems, chemical processes, civil infrastructure, automotive and aerospace vehicles, and advanced materials, to electronic devices, communication systems, medical devices and procedures, pharmaceutical drugs, manufacturing systems, and operational logistics, and many more—sophisticated models running on high performance computers are used as surrogates of reality to facilitate virtual design, control, planning, manufacture, and testing, resulting in faster, cheaper, and better products and processes.

Moreover, the prediction of the behavior of natural systems using computer models has led to vastly improved understanding of these systems, which range from severe weather, climate change, energy resources, and earthquakes, to protein folding, genomics, chemical processes, and virus spread, to supernovae and evolution of galaxies, to name but a few. Indeed, the traditional core disciplines of science and engineering must now be reviewed and reconstituted because what had once been out of reach by traditional science is now well within reach due to the advent of powerful new tools and approaches afforded by computational science.

This past year marked the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences (ICES), the leading research institute in the world in CS&E with over 250 faculty, research scientists, and graduate students, located here in Austin, Texas. Moreover, the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) in 2013 deployed Stampede, one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world. These two resources, and others, have placed The University of Texas at Austin at the forefront of research and education in computational science and engineering. The impacts on the region and the state are just beginning to be felt, and will accelerate rapidly in the coming years.


Drs. J. Tinsley Oden and Omar GhattasDr. Tinsley Oden (director of the Institute for Computational Engineering and Science (ICES), associate vice president of Research and professor at UT Austin) and Dr. Omar Ghattas (director of the Center for Computational Geosciences at ICES and professor at UT Austin) will both be speakers at The Academy of Medicine, Engineering & Science of Texas’ (TAMEST’s) Annual Conference January 16-17, 2014. The conference will address the computational revolution in medicine, engineering, and science.

Dr. Joseph J. Beaman is the Earnest F. Gloyna Regents Chair in Engineering in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin and was elected to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) in February 2013. He was elected to the NAE for innovation, development, and commercialization of solid freeform fabrication and selective laser sintering, an early form of additive layer manufacturing also known as 3-D printing—one of the most popular topics in the tech space currently.

Carl Deckard, Joe Beaman, and Paul Forderhase

From left to right: Carl Deckard, Joe Beaman, and Paul Forderhase photographed on November 19, 2012. The image in the background is of selective laser sintered miniature UT Austin towers before removal from the powder bed.

Dr. Beaman coined the term Solid Freeform Fabrication in 1987 referring to a manufacturing technology that produces freeform solid objects directly from a computer model of the object without part-specific tooling or knowledge. He was the first academic researcher in the field beginning in 1985, and one of the most successful Solid Freeform Fabrication approaches, Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), was developed in his laboratory at UT Austin. Carl Deckard, a student working in Dr. Beaman’s lab, came up with the idea as an undergraduate and pursued it further while working on his master’s degree. He and Dr. Beaman, who was the Principal Investigator (PI), received a $30,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to advance the technology and build a proof of concept machine.

Complex selective laser sintered object

This is an example of a complex selective laser sintered object. All of the interior objects were manufactured at one time from a tough nylon polymer on a SinterStation 2000 machine.

Dr. Beaman worked with graduate students, faculty, and industrial suppliers on the fundamental technology including materials, laser scanning techniques, thermal control, mold- making techniques, direct metal fabrication, and biomedical applications. He was one of the founders of DTM Corporation (later acquired by 3-D Systems), that commercialized SLS technology. Dr. Beaman was in charge of advanced development for DTM during 1990–1992 when the company developed and marketed its first commercial systems.

SinterStation 2000

The SinterStation 2000

Today, Dr. Beaman is considered a pioneer in what is popularly known as 3-D printing. His work with SLS-based technology is used by manufacturers globally to dramatically compress the manufacturing cycle for complex parts. Benefits include greatly reduced cost, time, and the capability to achieve in a single operation, geometries that would otherwise require multiple operations or prove impossible to manufacture with standard techniques. The technology is broadly applicable to many fields including architecture, industrial design, automotive and aerospace engineering, military applications, medicine/healthcare, civil engineering, fashion, and food.

Wax models for a casting process known as investment casting or lost-wax casting

SLS was originally intended by Deckard as a way to make wax models for a casting process known as investment casting or lost-wax casting. The part made of green wax (left) can be used as a casting pattern to make an identical part out of aluminum (right) or other metal. The off-white part (center) is made of polycarbonate and is not involved in the investment casting process.

According to Wohlers Associates, a leading 3-D printing consultancy, the market for 3-D printing and additive manufacturing in 2012, consisting of all products and services worldwide, grew 28.6% (CAGR) to $2.204 billion. By 2017, Wohlers Associates believes the sale of 3-D printing products and services will approach $6 billion worldwide. And its adoption continues to expand among consumers and professionals with a wide range of price points and capabilities aligned with the needs of each group. UPS is testing the market for 3-D printing services in stores in San Diego and Washington D.C. Approximately 80 percent of 3-D printing customers in the San Diego store were medical students interested in prototypes. NASA recently tested a rocket with a 3-D printed fuel injector. 3-D printing technology allowed the part to be created in just two parts instead of 115. NASA is also working with the company Made in Space and plans to launch a new 3-D printer in June 2014 for use on the International Space Station.

More information about Dr. Beaman and SLS is available here.

To provide more insights on the origins of SLS and the future of 3-D printing, we caught up with Dr. Beaman. He was kind enough to participate in the following Q&A.


When you and Carl Deckard began work in the mid-1980s on Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) what were you envisioning as the major industries and primary applications for commercial use of this technology?

Dr. Beaman: When Carl and I first discussed the concept, we were most concerned about how long it took to make the first one of almost anything. Carl’s interest was in parts that might come out of a standard machine shop, and I had worked in a machine shop while in high school, so I am sure this background colored our thoughts. Of course machine shops support many different types of industries that make mechanical parts.


What were the major challenges you and your team faced in the early days of DTM Corporation in developing SLS machines for use in commercial engineering/manufacturing environments?

Dr. Beaman: By its nature, SLS can make a wide variety of different shapes and therefore can be used in a numerous applications. This is a blessing and a curse. There are many possible markets, but a small company cannot address them all, especially when the market has to be created. Deciding what to focus on was the biggest challenge. We decided on casting and prototyping as a start. By the way, we also looked at an inexpensive SLS machine, which Paul Forderhase briefly studied. Paul was a master’s student that built the second SLS machine at UT and later joined DTM.


The core SLS patents will expire in February 2014. There’s speculation this could allow Chinese manufacturers to enter the market and effectively lower the prices for quality 3-D printers leading to the development of desktop SLS devices. What are your thoughts about the potential impact of these patents expiring?

Dr. Beaman: This is possible, but there are other specific patents that have longer life in this area and some of these may preclude a wholesale entrance by Chinese manufacturers in the general market.


3-D printing seems to be exploding in popularity with both consumers and industry with new applications being developed at a rapid pace. Many of these applications were not even imagined by the inventors of the technology. Where do you see the industry headed now almost 30 years since its inception?

Dr. Beaman: We have always split the market based on two axes, accuracy and strength. I usually refer to low accuracy and low strength applications as “3-D Printing.” This is the consumer market that includes a growing number of consumer-focused products from companies such as Makerbot, etc. This is the market that has exploded. Sometimes the market confuses the capabilities of 3-D Printers with higher performance additive manufacturing machines.

High strength, low accuracy yields machining forms. In which low accuracy “machining forms” are produced for final machining. Aerojet was a company that was formed to address this market for titanium (Ti) machining forms but went out of business because of competition with numerical control (NC) machining.

High accuracy, low strength yields casting patterns, which is a viable market. This includes patterns for lost-wax casting processes or for foundry casting patterns or molds. Applications here include jewelry, medical instruments and devices, and mechanical parts or forming operations.

Moderate accuracy, moderate strength is the realm of rapid prototyping. Rapid prototyping is a strength for our SLS technology and has applications in a wide range of manufacturing industries.

The Holy Grail is high strength, high accuracy, which is true manufacturing. I see true additive manufacturing as a strong direction now especially as an educated workforce gets developed that understands the design freedom allowed by additive manufacturing. This educated workforce will happen because of the 3-D printing market.


Are there new technologies under development that will further expand 3-D printing capabilities for both consumers and industrial design and manufacturing applications?

Dr. Beaman: A third axis is multiple materials. This would allow fabrication of system components such as parts with physically embedded electronics or structures with graded or discrete material interfaces. This will require improvements in CAD solid modeling software.


Will there continue to be market segmentation between complex industrial applications versus consumer applications for 3D printing or will this division begin to diminish as the technology evolves?

Dr. Beaman: For now, I see continued market segmentation unless someone comes up with a very inexpensive additive manufacturing machine that has great mechanical properties and accuracy.